No home yet for the Grand Forks Fall Fair

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
October 15th, 2012

A delegation from the Grand Forks Fall Fair Society was sent away to prepare a business case after calling on the City of Grand Forks to make good on a 40-year-old promise to give the fair a home.

In the 1970’s the Fall Fair was located in Fireman’s park just south of the 2nd Street Bridge on property that is now industrial land. When the city re-claimed the land to sell to businesses, they made a promise to the society to find a new location. Over subsequent years there have been many pleas to council to complete their end of the deal, and Les Braden, current president of the Fair society, came before council on Tuesday, Oct. 9 with the question once again.

“On Monday June 23, 1999 council for the city of Grand Forks designated property in the west end of Grand Forks strongly referred to as parcel Z as community use. I wish to further advise that council has approved the use of this site for the Grand Forks Fall Fair Society and other stakeholders,” quoted Braden from a letter sent to the society 13 years ago.

“During an open forum session (recently) we were all asked if you agreed that Grand Forks should have an exhibition park and community hall, and everybody was in agreement. What happened? It didn’t go away, there’s nothing to show that it is even being looked at, and all we ask is that you give us a chance to show that we are serious and with council’s help we can get ‘er done.”

In his presentation Braden gave the city three different location options: property beside and behind the Boundary Hospital (not owned by the city), land west of Dick Bartlett Park and what is known as parcel Z south of 68th Avenue west of 19th Street. Braden felt the discussion last spring about the use of land owned by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ on the west side of town was not a viable option for the society.

The annual fall fair, which made a real comeback this year with several thousand visitors and 30 per cent more floats in the parade, has been operating in Dick Bartlett Park and the Curling Rink. But the set up and tear down is just getting to be too much for the small hand full of volunteers that make up the society. They want to have a place to call home where permanent buildings and fences can be built.

This year set up for the event took five days. The mini chuckwagon race circuit had to be put up three times due to wind, said Braden. If that fencing had been permanent, they wouldn’t have had to waste all that time and energy putting up and then taking down miles of fencing, displays and booths.

Before councillors would commit or choose a location they called on the Fair society to develop a full proposal identifying possible partners, funding options, along with details that determine the size of land needed and the cost to the city.

“The questions I have are in regards to how much land will the fall fair need?” said councillor Michael Wirischagin. “What kind of agreement would the fall fair and the city be looking at? What I would like to see before I made a motion of any sort to say here’s a piece of land for the fall fair, is to have a business case of some sort from the fall fair… If you could present that to me I would be more than willing to agree with it.”

But without the commitment of land from the City of Grand Forks a vision for a multi-stakeholder facility that gives a home to the Fair cannot be realized, Braden explained, leaving them in a chicken versus the egg first situation.

“The key issue is that first of all that you have to have something to start off with,” Braden added. “Nobody is going to invest… or be interested in climbing on board until you finally end up saying, okay, the city says okay, we will give you a decent piece of land – not with a lease but so that it doesn’t get sold out from underneath them like has happened before.”

The Fair is not looking for a multi-million dollar complex, explained Braden, understanding the constraints of budgets and acknowledging that the potential uses are limited with the size of population in the area.

Braden agreed to work with the society to prepare the business case and bring further information back to council.

With files from Erin Perkins.